The 42nd regular session of the Human Rights Council was held from Monday 9 September to Friday 27 September at the United Nations Office in Geneva.
The Geneva Centre regularly followed the proceedings of this 42nd session, in particular those relating to the human rights situation in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and themes of special interest.
I. Opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet:
The High Commission is concerned regarding the difficulties of the new issues the world is facing such as digital space and privacy, and climate change, which reflect drastic effects on the rights of humanity. Ms Bachelet stressed the importance of interaction and international cooperation to envisage solutions and set strategies to ensure progress in the human rights field at both local and international levels. Five points were mentioned:
- The first point: That climate change has extreme effects on human rights development and peace; 40% of civil wars and terrorist acts have been linked to environmental degradation.
- The second point: Changes to climate call for a broad range of people, including women and indigenous peoples, to maximize the end result.
- The third point: Need to respect and protect the human rights of the environment defenders, who challenge organizations’ and governments’ priorities on environmental issues in an effort to fight climate change more effectively and urgently.
- The fourth point: Concerned the aftermaths of climate change on island nations, they are leading the way in solving the effects of environmental degradation which they are not responsible for and are requesting help from the international community.
- The fifth point: The High Commissioner pointed out that private companies play a vital role in regard to climate change and its effects. Therefore she recommended that the companies cooperate with the countries to help prevent human rights violation.
- Finally, Ms Bachelet thanked Canada and Sudan for their cooperation with the High Commission and the Human Rights Council. On the other hand, she commented on Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Burundi, South Africa, India, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Syria as well as the Israeli government regarding violations of human rights and international law.
Statements by Member Countries:
Iraq: Requested that violations of international law by all parties in conflict be prevented, and also that all companies abide by International environmental law and respect the citizens of the region. Added that many women and girls are being targeted, and demanded that these violations come to an end, especially given the increase of victims.
Jordan: Signed an international agreement but still faces many problems from human trafficking in their countries especially women and children. Jordan provided shelter for human trafficking victims. Added that the mercenaries must stop abusing citizens.
Egypt: Concerned about the harm that migrant workers are exposed to. Stated that all the conflicting parties should be responsible and compensate the war victims. Moreover, the army should, in its plans, ensure full conformity with the applicable international law.
UAE: Supported the progress achieved by the Human Rights Council in the rising issue of climate change and according to it many courses of actions were taken to avoid the effects. One such was a Ministry for Climate Change and Environment established to promote climate change as an issue as well to invest in climate change for good. Also hosted the Abu Dhabi meeting on climate change whose outcome will be reviewed in the UN climate change conference in New York. UAE supported human rights and gender equality through empowering women and electing them in the national federal council. Added that the Gulf region has a strategic location and hence it is important to maintain peace and ensure stability in the region.
Bahrain: Expressed its concerns about the effects of climate change and supported the need to find solutions to avoid these effects, in collaboration and with the support of the Human Rights Council. Complimented the cooperation between the authorities in Sudan and the Office of the High Commissioner in managing the transition period. Bahrain also requested that action be taken concerning the human rights violations as well as the settlement expansions in the West Bank by the Israeli government against the Palestinian civilians, which are violations of international law. Lastly, expressed willingness to further cooperate with the High Commissioner to achieve progress in enhancing and protecting human rights.
Qatar: Requested that the blockade on Qatar be lifted as it greatly hinders development in their country. Added that they are dissatisfied with the Syrian party and allies targeting and harming civilians and violating international law. Urged the international community to help. Qatar also expressed concern about the situation in Afghanistan and advised Afghanistan and the opposing parties to find a peaceful solution and avoid military confrontation. Qatar condemned the Israeli government for its establishment of illegal settlements on Palestinian lands.
Statements by NGO’s:
Amnesty International: Concerned by the continuity of crimes against humanity and the major violations of human rights in Venezuela, as well as the rejection by Venezuela to progress in collaboration with the Human Rights Council to resolve this issue. It also urged the Council to establish an investigation mandate. The destructive fires in the amazon area raised alarms and symptoms of a much wider issue regarding deforestation in illegal ways to gain more lands. Furthermore, it requested that Brazil enforce its own laws and intensify the surveillance system in relation to illegal seizure of lands as well to protect the lands of indigenous people. Lastly, Myanmar was requested to cooperate with the prosecutor of the international criminal court with regard to the violations committed against civilians.
International Commission of Jurists: Stated that many violations of human rights have been reported and which are continuing to take place in the Venezuela. It also observed that the judiciary system is not independent in Venezuela and deplored the absence of accountability for those responsible for serious human rights violations.
II. Statement by the Chairperson of the Group Eminent Experts on Yemen, Mr Kamel Jendoubi.
Mr. Kamel Jendoubi reported to the Human Rights Council on the violations of human rights in the Yemeni conflict, expressing concern about the attacks that have targeted civilians, air strikes, shelling and random mines set by the conflicting parties. Added that it was hard to collect the facts due to the lack of cooperation between the allied forces (UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia & Egypt) and the Yemeni government. The Council strived to authenticate all coming facts by cooperating with the Eminent Group, and also by interviewing refugees. Furthermore, requested the mandate to continue in Yemen to authenticate findings and engage with parties responsible in order to achieve peace and justice in the future.
Statements by Member Countries:
Yemen: Criticized the report of the Group of Eminent Experts as it was politicized, and stressed that the government does not support the Houthi rebels. The government rejected discussing the subject of human rights in the Yemeni conflict under item 10 and would prefer to discuss it under the second item as it was done earlier.
Iran: Concerned about the violations of civilian’s human rights in the Yemeni conflict and called upon an investigation concerning all parties, especially the unidentified ones that supply weapons. Iran also suggested to enhance the coalition forces to ensure that peace and security is established in Yemen. Added that it is the government that is responsible for maintaining peace and stability in the country.
Qatar: Expressed its concerns about the violations and war crimes that all the parties in the war had committed. It also requested that the blockade should be lifted so the food, medical, and other vital resources could be delivered. Qatar also requested that the Group’s mandate be renewed.
Statement by NGO’s:
Bahai International Community: The NGO stated that the violations of human rights and the extreme violence against civilians, and detention without any rights to a fair trial by the Houthi rebels, must come to an end. It added that the Iranian influence must be contained and stopped in this conflict.
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom: Urged the Human Rights Council to start a gender analysis considering the enforced disappearance of the citizens and soldiers. It also requested that civilians should not be used as military pawns in war. Furthermore, it requested that the restocking of weapons from KSA and its allies must not threaten the life of a woman and a child, and also asked for an end to the blockade.
III. Statement by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights:
Ms Gilmore started on the issues in Yemen by highlighting that the conflict has turned Yemen into the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with the population trapped in a relentless armed conflict and other forms of violence, entailing serious violations and abuses of human rights as well as international humanitarian law. Also added that all the parties to the conflict are responsible for numerous violations of human rights, of international law and humanitarian law, and that some of these violations may constitute war crimes. Furthermore, she added that the latest report shows the Commission has enhanced its efforts to reflect violations and abuses committed by all parties, and to attribute incidents, including to Houthi-Saleh forces, Arab Coalition forces, and drone warfare. Expressed concern of being unable to access parts of the territory of Yemen. In particular, the de facto authorities have been unwilling to cooperate with the Commission and to provide it access to the areas they control, on the grounds that its composition hampers impartiality and independence since it comprises members appointed by the Government of Yemen. Moreover, encouraged the Government to revise the mandate of the Commission to ensure it can safely and effectively fulfil its role as an independent mechanism, and the Attorney-General to systematically and promptly act upon the cases received from the Commission, whoever the alleged perpetrators are. Lastly, called on all relevant parties to fully cooperate with the Commission so that it can safely and effectively fulfil its mandate, notably by granting it access to all areas of Yemen, including all places of deprivation of liberty, and providing it with all relevant information it may request.
Statements by countries:
Yemen: Commended the report and its positive presentation. Noted that human rights violations needed to be properly reviewed and evaluated, and the promotion of human rights in Yemen be reinforced. Also, recognized the sympathy of countries as ell the international community, and stressed more than once the cause of the issues in Yemen.
Egypt: Expressed appreciation to the High Commissioner for working to promote security and stability in Yemen. Similarly for the way the Group of Eminent Experts conducted its mandate, in accordance with the request of the state, without interfering in the state’s policy and sovereignty, nor imposing any forcible measures upon it.
Saudi Arabia: Supported the coalition legitimacy in Yemen which acted in conformity with international humanitarian law. Expressed determination to support their brothers in Yemen with food assistance, and establishing a project specifically to remove mines and rescue children recruited by the Houthis. Lastly, highlighted the importance of joint efforts to help Yemen.
IV. Situation in Libya
Mr. Ghassan Salamé, Head, United Nations Support Mission in Libya, stated that it was five months to the day since General Haftar launched his offensive to seize control of Tripoli, halting an active and promising political process and returning the country to renewed conflict. Since the 4th of April, the conflict has spread geographically and has exacted a heavy toll on civilians and those fighting. More than 100 civilians have been killed and over 300 injured, and 120,000 civilians have been displaced. There are no confirmed figures for the total number of fighters who have died so far. Yet another generation of young Libyan men are spilling their blood on the battlefield when their skills could better be used to rebuild their country.
He requested to draw attention to the shelling of airports. A disaster was closely averted last Sunday when a plane full of returning pilgrims from Mecca was miraculously not hit by a series of shells fired at Mitiga airport. Seven people were injured. He requested the Council’s strong support in condemning such indiscriminate shelling which threatens the lives of substantial numbers of civilians. He observed that local peace also needs to be built on stable local authorities but remained concerned by attempts of the unrecognized eastern government to assert control over local municipalities. The efforts by the interim government to conduct parallel municipal elections or establish appointed municipal steering committees, including in municipalities where elected councils are already in place, are exacerbating local conflict and fragmenting local governance structures. This is unfortunate given that local governments are the most resilient institutions and are expected to play a crucial role in reconciliation, delivery of services and reconstruction and Libyans broadly agree on the need for further decentralization.
He stated his concern about migrants and refugees who continue to be detained in compounds controlled by armed groups, thereby placing them in extreme danger. Nearly 500 of those who escaped the July attack on the Tajoura detention center spontaneously entered the Gathering and Departure Facility which is managed by the Department of Combatting Illegal Migration. With over 1,000 refugees, the infrastructure in the Gathering and Departure Facility is overstretched and the humanitarian situation in the facility is deteriorating rapidly. Moreover, hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers were intercepted by the Libyan Coast guard in recent weeks. Some are now being freed and others are being handed over to detention centers, we know at least of 3 cases where the boats, the occupants of the boats were immediately freed when they landed on the Libyan land. UNSMIL continued to receive reports of indefinite arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees, extortion and beating, trafficking and inhumane conditions of detention including severe overcrowding and shortages of food and water. Urgent funding for the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan is necessary to allow the UN Mission to continue to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in Libya including migrants.
Finally, he noted that many Libyans feel abandoned by part of the international community and exploited by others. Without the unequivocal support of the Council and the broader international community for an immediate end to the Libyan conflict, he believed that the Libyans will not obtain what they deserve.
Statements by Countries:
Libya: Many Libyans reported that the international community abandoned them, and efforts cannot succeed without support from the international community that grants them their full rights. Regarding immigration, observed that it will not cease if we do not reach a solution. Called upon the international community to send a strong message, stop the war and stop the interventions.
Iraq: Supported Libya in this discussion, and encouraged restoration of stability and security with shared responsibility.
Jordan: Called for the provision of material and technical support in border control to prevent crimes, ensure Libya’s security and stability and prevent terrorism.
Qatar: Condemned all violations and in particular the targeting of airports and hospitals. Warned that continued external interference will cause the Libyan situation to further deteriorate.
Egypt: Shared the need to resolve the crisis in Libya, restore stability and combat terrorism.
Bahrain: Urged the Libyan government to cooperate with the international community to improve the situation in Libya. Will continue to support the material and technical needs of Libya.
Saudi Arabia: The Government supports all efforts to restore stability and prosperity in Libya, because stability in Libya will be reflected on neighboring countries.